May 24th, 2022


Accomplished, successful and 'white'? Feel guilty or else!

Laura Hollis

By Laura Hollis

Published Dec. 18, 2014

You've got to give credit to the left. They have a seemingly limitless capability to generate popular ideas that are both empty-headed and dangerous.

The latest boondoggle is "white privilege" --- a philosophy that ascribes all accomplishments to favorable circumstances (if you're white) and which requires accomplished (white) people to admit this and apologize for those circumstances.

Where to start with this one?

First, to use the left's parlance, "white" is purely a political and social construct. People often use the term to mean Americans whose ancestors hailed from Europe. But the conflation of people from different European countries is a distinctly American phenomenon.

Spend some time in Europe, and it's quickly evident that Belgians don't see themselves as just like Italians, any more than the Portuguese equate themselves with the Polish. (Even here in the United States, intermarriage between people from different European countries has tended to be a second- or third-generation occurrence.)

"White" also seems to be a fluid epithet. George Zimmerman infamously became a "white Hispanic" (who knew?) as soon as he shot Trayvon Martin.

But the "privilege" part of "white privilege" is the more insidious of the two words.

Let's face it --- the race racket is a tougher sell these days.

Slavery was abolished 150 years ago. Jim Crow was 80 years ago. Race baiters are now dealing with multiple generations of Americans who are "civil rights babies," having grown up in the 50 years since the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964. Millions of us have been raised to see racial equality as common decency.

We never saw separate water fountains or segregated schools. We believe in equal opportunity and learned Martin Luther King's speech in grade school. 40 million white voters believed that King's dream was realized when Barack Obama was elected president of the United States in 2008.

The "racist!" accusation has little punch in this climate. So something new had to be devised. Something that didn't depend on one's actions, like the charge of "discrimination," or even one's thoughts, like "racism." Something that, like the air we breathe, is both everywhere and impossible to see.

"White privilege" to the rescue.

Academics and pundits are clamoring to get on the "privilege" bandwagon, and Americans of left-leaning sensibilities are falling all over themselves to own up to this utterly baseless charge.

But many Americans are pushing back.

As Tal Fortgang, a Princeton freshman, wrote in an essay that went viral last spring, the "white privilege" meme is infuriatingly inaccurate for the millions of Americans whose families came to the United States utterly destitute, fleeing famines, persecution, political instability or war. It ignores those whose families have struggled to eke out an existence in coal mining, farming or factories. It denigrates every achievement and punishes every good decision.

You have accomplishments? "Privilege."

Made good choices? "Privilege."

Worked hard? Sacrificed? "Privilege."

And the clincher? You instilled those values in your children? And they live by them? PRIVILEGE.

Here's what "white privilege" is really about: eroding responsibility.

In yet another of the left's twisted social theorems, people who make responsible decisions about their lives and who reap the benefits of those responsible decisions should receive no credit. They are not really responsible for the things they have achieved.

The corollary is even more important. Americans whose lives are the product of poor decisions aren't responsible, either -- for their decisions or the consequences thereof. Because they didn't have the "privilege" that "whites" have. See how easy that is? Never mind that large numbers of black Americans, as well as those of every other ethnicity and background, have demonstrated that making just handful of sensible decisions can produce very successful lives -- or at least escape the cycle of poverty produced by teen pregnancy, drug and alcohol abuse, dropping out of school and crime. (It gives leftists the vapors when you point this out. When black scholars like Walter Williams and Thomas Sowell point it out -- with the data to back it up -- the left goes positively apoplectic.)

The "privilege" claims cannot logically be confined to race or ethnicity, and indeed, have not been. There are plenty of online forums where the disaffected can complain about "thin privilege," "beauty privilege," "talent privilege," "athletic privilege," "intelligence privilege" and even "ability privilege."

One sometimes gets the impression that whoever dreams these things up does it for the sheer joy of watching otherwise smart and successful people abase themselves.

But that's just a side benefit to political extortion. The social conditioning and indoctrination behind "white privilege" will come with a price tag --- leftist delusions always do.

12/11/14: Progressives Prefer 'Narrative' to Truth
11/28/14: Giving thanks for wonderful Americans who defy the media's narrative
11/13/14: Progressive Stupidity
11/06/14: GOP Victors Erode Left's Messaging
10/23/14: The Perils of a Compliant Media
10/23/14: 'Legal' Doesn't Equate to Moral Approval
10/20/14: Language in the Service of Life
10/09/14: Why does his administration refuse to protect us?
10/02/14: Toward a More Productive Policy Discourse
09/25/14: That burden called 'motherhood'
09/23/14: Obama's Johnny Bravo Moment

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Laura Hirschfeld Hollis is on the faculty at the University of Notre Dame, where she teaches courses in business law and entrepreneurship. She has received numerous awards for her teaching, research, community service and contributions to entrepreneurship education.